Assessment of routinely collected information on internet sex offenders by criminal justice social workers and the police in Scotland: an exploratory study
Henning, Christopher John
The number of offenders who have been convicted of possession, distribution or production of sexually explicit media involving children (SEMIC) has increased exponentially in the last decade. The majority of these cases have been facilitated by increased availability and affordability of the internet and mobile technology. This has led both practitioners and academics to question whether or not internet sex offenders are a new type of offender or whether they are similar to contact offenders who target children offline. Questions have also been raised as to whether or not such internet sex offenders are a homogenous group or whether they can be distinguished by their potential to recidivate or escalate to contact offences. This thesis contributes to this body of knowledge by assessing the information routinely collected on internet sex offenders by criminal justice social workers and the police in Scotland. The forensic reports produced by the police (N=80) alongside matched social enquiry reports from criminal justice social workers (N=30), on all of the offenders convicted for breach of section 52 of the Civic Government Scotland Act (1982) in a particular region of Scotland from 2002-2009, were assessed. Police reports contained detailed information relating to specific offending behaviours: the number of images/videos found on the offender’s computer; the age and sex of the children depicted; the severity of the SEMIC (based on the modified COPINE scale); where the SEMIC was from and how it was stored; whether the offender attempted to hide any images or videos, and whether or not he shared or produced any SEMIC. These reports also noted whether the offender had any previous convictions, as well as age at the time of the offence. Based on the social enquiry reports, the criminal justice social workers focused on demographic characteristics (age, educational background, employment history, family status) of the offenders as well as the attitudes or beliefs they might have held (expression of remorse or guilt and admission to being sexually attracted to children). The social enquiry reports also provided risk assessments, which assessed this group of internet sex offenders as a normally distributed range from low to very high risk to reoffend utilizing the RM2000 and Stable/Acute 2007. The criminal justice social workers did not differentiate between offenders in their management recommendations, which as reported in social enquiry reports, included: no use of the internet except for education or employment; no ownership of devices capable of taking or receiving images/videos, and no unsupervised access to children. Statistical analysis of this sample showed that distinctions between internet sex offenders could be made based on their offending behaviour, demographic information and attitudes they held about the crime. Correlation analysis suggested that offenders who were in possession of SEMIC depicting very young children were also likely to be in possession of SEMIC depicting boys and Level 4/5 images or videos (based on the modified COPINE scale). In addition, offenders who possessed very large collections of SEMIC were also the most likely to be in possession of the most deviant images and videos. Post-hoc analysis suggested offenders who were producers of SEMIC were more likely to have been in relationships and single offenders were more likely to be in possession of the more deviant collections. Contrary to what was expected, the size of an offender’s collection of SEMIC was negatively correlated with the risk assessment level reported by the criminal justice social workers. These results are discussed in the context of current research on risk assessment and management. Based on that current literature and the results of this research, it is recommended that criminal justice social workers utilize information relating the offender’s behaviour, or more specifically the quantity and deviancy of the SEMIC he possessed, in relation to his social circumstances when making recommendations for management and assessing his risk to reoffend.